Panel on Concept of Solidarity held by UWE Staff at UACES Conference in Bath

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Guest blog post by Noelle Quenivet:

A few months ago under the leadership of Dr Francesco Tava (HSS, HAS) a group of UWE scholars from the Department of Health and Social Sciences (Philosophy and Politics) and the Bristol Law School met to consider how best to engage in interdisciplinary research on the concept of solidarity in the European Union. After some discussions around the possibility to organise a workshop and engage with the wider public on the issue, we agreed that we should first test our ideas at an academic conference. With this view, the group sent a panel proposal to the call for papers for the annual conference of UACES, an academic association for Contemporary European Studies, which was going to be held in Bath in September 2018. We were all very pleased that our panel proposal was accepted and that we would be able to present our views.

The three papers we had suggested were ‘On the Borders of Solidarity: Europe and the Refugee Convention’ by Dr Phil Cole (HSS, HAS), ‘Digitising Solidarity?’ by Dr Darian Meacham (a former colleague of Francesco at the University of Maastricht, The Netherlands) and ‘Solidarity: A General Principle of EU Law?’ by Dr Eglė Dagilytė (Anglia Ruskin University) who had been contacted by Christian Dadomo and Dr Noëlle Quénivet (FBL, Law). It was agreed that Francesco would act as chair and Christian as discussant. On the day, the speakers were joined by Trineke Palm (Utrecht University, The Netherlands) who presented a paper on ‘Emotional Beliefs and the Institutional Set-up of European Integration’ and Noelle stepped in for Christian who was on a UWE business trip. Under the chairmanship of Francesco excellent questions were fielded from the audience which no doubt thoroughly enjoyed this interdisciplinary approach. We all very much look forward to continuing this initiative on the concept of solidarity and to developing further contacts.

The text below is the commentary by Noelle who acted as a discussant. It goes without saying that her reflections might not fully represent the views and arguments of the speakers and thus do not engage the responsibility of the speakers.

As a French national I am used to the motto ‘liberté, égalité, fraternité’ which is anchored in Article 2 of the French Constitution. And so I have the tendency to understand ‘solidarity’ as a concept not too dissimilar from ‘fraternity’. It is interesting that a couple of months ago the case of Cédric Herrou, a French national, who had been fined for helping thousands of asylum seekers cross the border to France made the headlines. Seized of the matter, the Conseil Constitutionnel (Constitutional Court) declared that ‘[t]he concept of fraternity confers the freedom to help others, for humanitarian purposes, without consideration for the legality of their stay on national territory’ (as per translation here). The Court further explained that the principle of fraternity was a constitutional principle. For those of you interested to learn more about the case, Christian Dadomo has written a good blog post here. So, until then it was much more a rallying cry than a tangible, legal principle that could be invoked in a court. The parallel with the principle of solidarity – or is it the moral value of the concept of solidarity? – can be easily drawn here. As Egle cogently argues in her paper, whilst being a principle expressly stipulated in the treaty the principle of solidarity in the European Union is devoid of legal value. It cannot be invoked in court. At least not at the moment. Maybe the Court of Justice of the European Union will one day have its Herrou moment and consecrate the principle of solidarity that is found in a variety of treaty articles as a general principle of EU law.

So, what is the principle of solidarity? This interdisciplinary panel attempts to shed some light on it from a variety of angles: law, philosophy, politics, history and international relations. The aim is to provide depth to a concept that is often used but not necessarily well understood. Solidarity in the context of the European Union can be understood at two levels: at the micro-level it is more about the interpersonal solidarity and at the macro-level it is solidarity between the EU institutions and is probably better known under the concept of ‘sincere cooperation’. In my comments I will focus on the first one.

First, all speakers agree that the concept or the principle of solidarity is good in the sense that it is worth having and keeping. Darian also makes the point that solidarity is ‘offensive’ but in a positive sense of the term as it aims to improve the social, political and economic framework. In fact he argues that it is a political desideratum. Trineke also mentions that originally the need for EU integration was argued on the basis of a solidarity of self-interest and it later turned (or might turn) into a solidarity of heart. It is a force for good. Phil, in contrast, appears a bit more sceptical of the benefits of the application of the principle of solidarity and not only in the specific context of the refugee crisis.

Interpersonal solidarity is built on relations between individuals but it does not mean that individuals know each other personally. Rather, they are part of what Darian calls ‘a social object’ such as a nation-state, a linguistic community, a labour union. The question however is whether the social object exists before the formation of the group and is thus the basis of the group or whether the social object is created by individuals. That specific question features in all papers. In this regard, Egle speaks of top-down and bottom-up solidarity. Trineke illustrates the former by showing that solidarity as an emotional belief was used to create European integration whilst Egle mentioned the 3 million campaign as an example of the latter. So, my first question to the panel is: is it a chicken and egg situation? Is it important to understand this process to use the concept of solidarity? Does it matter or shall we only focus on what such solidarity actually produces rather than on its roots or sources?

All speakers also explain that solidarity involves first some form of community and second individuals identifying themselves as belonging to one of these communities. Phil also stresses the importance of loyalty in this context. Egle mentions that ‘all theories on solidarity imply some sort of inclusiveness’. Darian in his paper refers to a community and this ultimately means that there are inclusions and exclusions, membership even, and thus potentially the creation of a ‘we and the others’ culture. So my second question is: Is this demarcation potentially a problem? Put crudely, how could one distinguish between solidarity and nationalism for example? Applied to the EU, does this mean that in fact the principle of solidarity is supporting the building of ‘fortress Europe’ with a view to ensuring stability within the group? This is one of the key points made by Phil in relation to the refugee crisis.

The concept of reciprocity is also another common feature of the papers presented today. More than reciprocity, the discussion seems to focus on an expectation of reciprocity as Darian points out. One might however be disappointed that there is no reciprocity but it does not detract from the point that there is some form of expectation. This is also mentioned in Trineke’s paper who stresses that a number of European politicians have pointed out that solidarity is in reality a discourse about responsibility. So, my third question is: what is the link between solidarity, reciprocity and responsibility? Must members of the group feel or be responsible for what happens to others in that group? What is their relationship with those outside the group?

My last point is about practical solidarity. In other words, when do we recognise that the concept of solidarity must be engaged, must be practiced? When is such solidarity triggered? Egle mentions a number of cases relating to ‘social solidarity’ which are situations whereby an EU national seeks social assistance in another State. Phil refers to the migrant situation in the Mediterranean Sea. So, my last question for this panel is: can we define solidarity by looking at its triggers? In other words, what drives the concept of solidarity into action and what is the reaction created by the trigger?